Accelerating a career in data analytics

Habeeb Sultana (she/her), a third-year Math student, shares her accomplished co-op experience, one that has led her through Waterloo Experience (WE) Accelerate all the way towards two (soon to be three) terms in a familiar place.

Habeeb's co-op journey:

Work term one: Through WE Accelerate and their collaboration with AltaML, Habeeb worked towards receiving her Microsoft Azure certifications. After doing so, her team worked on running machine learning pipelines and providing insights to stakeholders regarding any concerns about medical devices.

Work term two: Habeeb then transitioned to a role at Northbridge Financial Corporation as a data governance intern. Here she focused on data quality and collaborating with her team to incorporate modern technology into the company as well as managing and updating a data dictionary. She was also the first co-op student on the then-newly formed DG team at Northbridge.

Work term three: Showing an early interest in the data analytics team during her previous term, Habeeb called Northbridge home for a second consecutive term, shifting to the role of business data analytics intern. Here she used statistics and data modelling to answer questions that the business had for her.

Q&A with Habeeb:

Habeeb Sultana smiling.What was it like to work with those new governance tools and forever know that you'll be the first co-op to have worked with them?

“Going in I was a little nervous. I knew what data governance is on the surface, but I had never professionally worked with it and so I didn’t know what to expect. At the time when I was there, they were buying a new data governance tool that they were implementing, so it was exciting.”

“My team members were also trying to figure out how that tool would work best for the company and I was right there trying to figure it out with them as well.”

“It was like we were all in it together, and that's always great because you would get more out of those experiences when you're told everyone is here to learn and to try for the first time too. We were all working towards the same thing, so I feel like learning on the go for that was huge.”

“Data governance is not something I see a ton of roles for actively, so it was great that I got that opportunity and it's nice to have an early co-op in a company and field that’s new and upcoming.”

“It's intimidating at the beginning, but I think as you get into it and you start doing the work, you find that you like it.”

What was the job search process for you like? Was it an easy one or did it have its challenges?

“Personally, I'm someone who gets a little thrown off during hiring season and I think that's the same for many people within the co-op program. It’s a challenge to balance, especially that first one where it took a full hiring season. We were back from the pandemic at that time and applying to 50 jobs and balancing a full course load is challenging.”

“Each of the jobs you're applying to as well, you’re trying to make sure that your résumé and cover letter caters to that position. Even though a lot of the positions I applied to lie within the data field, I feel like every position in itself was different, and that first cycle is always a little overwhelming.”

“My data governance position, after going through the application, interview, and ranking process, I got along well with my employer and they were also interested in me, so we came to an agreement.”

“It was stressful at times but you get there in the end.”

At that point, did you ever think this may lead to multiple co-op terms with Northbridge?

“For me at that point, I was just looking for any role I could find because I had never had a corporate experience, this was going to be my first ever.”

“Being an international student too, I was not very well-versed with what co-op looked like. Now I know that it's big in Canadian work culture.”

“I wouldn't have even known that there would be other positions that would be possible for me at Northbridge, but as you get in and you see that there are other things you can explore, many more opportunities open up.”

Habeeb Sultana standing in front of Northbridge Place in Toronto.


What was the driving force that led you to WE Accelerate? For students that are unfamiliar with it, what did it provide you with? What can it provide to students?

“WE Accelerate is an alternative option that Waterloo started giving students during the pandemic because people were hiring less then.”

“What's nice about it, is that you get to choose your path. They have programs associated with different companies and you get to choose what you’re interested in.”

“When I went through the list, they had partnerships with companies for artificial intelligence and machine learning positions. That's something that aligned with my interests. I also saw that you could do the Azure certifications, for example, and things that I know a lot of students want to do and I certainly did.”

“When someone asked me if they should look at WE Accelerate, I said you should, because when else do you get the time to actually go get these professional certifications that look great on a resume?”

“I used Azure to build those pipelines with a group of people and present it. You go through that whole process knowing that there's a safety net to learn and that everyone is there to learn themselves.”

Has work within the data and computing field always interested you, or has Northbridge brought out that passion for it over your terms there?

“I knew that when I started studying math that I enjoy numbers and that I could even minor in computing.”

“I was like ‘Okay, this is something I want to do,’ but you're not able to flesh out what it is within the field that you want to do until you get hands-on experience.”

“It wasn’t until my last co-op that I realized I like using modeling and statistics to answer big questions and to get those insights. It's something I enjoy doing because I feel like within my second role at the company, I was more accustomed with the way the company works. It was an entirely different role but at least I was comfortable.”

“You don't go into your first co-op and think that this is it. You don’t think that this is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life, and on my last one I really felt that this is the kind of work I see myself doing.”

“I can even see that it’s closely related with a lot of my courses. I think during courses now, I could’ve applied this concept in a project I did last term to make it better. That's advice I got from a manager and I've been trying to actively do that.”

What is an example of an accomplishment that you've achieved within your co-op career?

“One of the projects that I worked on last term, we were analyzing the metric that the company uses, which is the net promoter score to see how they're being reviewed by their customers.”

“Apart from other projects I did that term, that was ‘my’ project for the four months and it was what I presented at the end of term to the company.”

“As a math student, for me, there's a question and there's a right answer. No matter how difficult it is to get to that answer, there is one, and through that project I learned that within the data industry there is no final correct answer.”

“Within the context of an institution and the problem, what works best is what you need to do. I took the most out of that project and came out on the other side with something I was happy with and something I could gain insights from. It was very rewarding. A lot of the concepts I applied on that project I hadn’t even learned them in school yet.”

What is next for you on this journey through your co-op and into a career?

“I would hope it’s more work in the data landscape. I think I've found something I truly enjoy.”

“Not to say that there aren’t other things out there that I might enjoy and that I like, but I know that data analytics and modeling is what interests me so hopefully I get to work within that field in the future.”

“For my next co-op, I am going back to Northbridge again for another term in the same role, so hopefully it'll include more of those satisfying projects that I really enjoy doing and learning from.” “In the long run, I like seeing that I enjoy my courses more too. Stats-based courses combined with co-op will really add to me being able to explore a career within that field.”

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